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James Booth Clarkson.png

Above: This photograph shows James Booth Clarkson wearing a lieutenant's uniform of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). This dates to photograph to sometime before his June 1888 promotion to captain in the battalion. The photograph's reverse side bears the pen inscription: "Grandfather James Booth Clarkson."


Over Sized Cabinet Photograph

4 3/4 Inches by 7 7/8 Inches

(12.3cm x 20cm)

Walery - Photographer

164 Regent Street, London, England

c. 1887


His is an unusual story, to say the least. While James Booth Clarkson is a historically obscure personage today his life is rather unusual from a military point of view. It certainly does not quite fit into the expected categories. He was a medical doctor who resigned his commission in the volunteers to serve in a civil capacity during the Anglo-Boer War and had previously held posting of surgeon on merchant vessels.


He traveled the world visiting the United States, India, and Australia and held various and sundry posts and positions in most of them. Although obscure, he, fortunately, left behind this series of photographs that have allowed his life story to be reconstructed at least in part. A large portion of his biography is derived from his obituary as it appeared in the Tuesday, 19 July 1927 edition of The Brisbane Register but supplemented here with a fair quantity of additional original research from sources not available to the Register’s writers/editors.


James Booth Clarkson was born on 15 May 1855 in Lancashire the son of James Jenkinson Clarkson a surgeon and general practitioner and Marianne (or Mary Ann) Gent. As is most often the case very little can be found regarding Clarkson’s youth but given his father’s profession, we can assume that he received a quality education. He does appear in the Malvern Register (Malvern College) 1865-1905.


Clarkson’s first choice in careers seemed to have been the Royal Navy but after graduation from medical school, he was apparently above the age limit for acceptance in spite of passing the required examinations. Not to be kept from the sea, he entered the mercantile marine (British Merchant Navy) and signed aboard the sailing vessel Norfolk eventually becoming third officer. He also served as surgeon on board the SS Scythia, the SS England, the SS Servia, and the SS Bolivia. One voyage in which Clarkson was involved took a tragic turn when the ship Mairi Bhan under Captain McIntyre was chartered to return some 614 Indian indentured works back to Calcutta, India from Trinidad after they has completed their five years’ service on that Caribbean island. Poorly crewed, the ship had a tortuous 197-day voyage (1 October 1885 – 14 April 1886) during which 36 of the Indian workers died. According to the report of Captain McIntyre, it was only the presence of Surgeon Clarkson that far great numbers of deaths were avoided.


Clarkson was appointed a Lieutenant in the 19th (Liverpool Press Guard) Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps on 22 July 1882 thus beginning his land-based military career. He transferred to the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) as a Lieutenant on 29 December 1886. Promoted captain on 25 June 1888 he resigned his commission on 4 June 1892. He accepted an appointment as Captain in the Reserve of Officers on 30 January 1895.


During this same time period, Clarkson must have taken a leave of absence since we find him arriving in New York in October of 1891. Traveling across the United States he took up residence in Northern California and seemingly possessed of a singular civic-mindedness found himself elected Vice-President of Placer Citrus Colony an agricultural development partnership which was the brainchild of California landowner J. Parker Whitney whose wife was British born. Located in Placer County, California, the colony made up primarily of former officers in Her Majesty’s service whom Whitney had set about inviting to California. The following article appeared in the 10 January 1891 edition of the Placer Herald:


“We referred last week to the formal opening of the Citrus Colony Club. We imagine our readers will be interested to know something about the Citrus Colony.


Some years ago J. Parker Whitney who already owned a large track of lad east of Rocklin and Loomis along with others bought a large additional area in Antelope Valley, lying mostly between his old track and the railroad. He went to work and laid it off in blocks of twenty, forty, and eighty acres each; through this tract, he laid off broad avenues and graded them. A price was fixed on the land and people were invited to buy and improve it.


In April 1889, Captain J. Booth Clarkson, of the Third Royal Fusiliers, England. Came to California with the view of locating. He had been in nearly every part of the world, including India, the West Indies, South African, British Guiana, Australia, New Zealand, and South America, but from what he had read he inclined to the opinion that the United States was the most desirable county in which to locate and that California was the most desirable part of the United States. At last, his attention was directed to Placer County. On reaching here he heard of the Citrus Colony lands. He went to look at them. The richness of the soil, the character of the climate, the attractive scenery of the county, coupled with the excellence of the varied products and superior market facilities of the locality appealed to his judgment as the most desirable combinations for the successful building of an attractive home that he had found anywhere. He at once made up his mind to locate.


He bought 100 acres and at once put men to work clearing and improving it. He then went home for his family, returning with them in October 1889. Major Turner of Leicestershire Regiment accompanied the Captain on his return and on arriving here bought fifty acres of the colony land. After arranging to have his land improved and planted, the Major returned for his family. On Captain Clarkson’s place today fifty-five acres are cleared and planted, fifteen acres of which are on the steep slope of Antelope Ridge, and this has been beautifully terraced and planted with orange trees, Altogether he has out and growing 1,500 orange trees, 1,500 apricot trees, and 4000 peach trees. On Major Turner’s place, ten acres have been terraced. All told he has out 1,700 orange trees, and proposes, as he has just returned with his wife and family of seven children, to set out another 1,200 orange trees this spring. He is just finishing a new and sightly residence and is going ahead vigorously to put his place in fine shape.”


The article continues on in this vein and mentions some of the other British expatriates who followed Captain Clarkson and Major Turner. These included: Mr. A. C. E. Johns of St. Bees, Cumbria, Wallace Dewe of Trinity College, H. B. Tomkins, Dorsetshire Regiment, H. Wentworth, Mansel S. Carne of Trinity College, Harold Famer Hall of Trinity College, Captain E. H. S. Calder, Royal Artillery, Bruce Gardyne, 60th Rifles, G. A. and Herbert Bishop, Mr. Frank Kerslake of London and A.P. Agnew of Edinburgh.


The colony thrived at first but an economic depression in the middle 1890s and an outbreak of malaria in the late 1890s put an end to the colony with many members selling out and returning to Britain or other parts of the Empire. Interestingly Clarkson is enumerated in the 1892 list of registered voters for the State of California which implies that he had become a citizen of the United States.


Clarkson move east to Boston, Massachusetts, and took up his medical practice there apparently not willing to forsake the U.S. just yet. In 1896 Clarkson was acting as surgeon on the SS Servia when that vessel transported members of the Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts to London for their historic meeting with the Honorable Artillery Company of London. At a regimental dinner on board during the crossing, Clarkson was an invited guest and offered a toast to the long and glorious reign of Queen Victoria.


With the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898 we found employment with the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association as a civilian medical observer. He was specifically tasked with reporting on the hospital conditions available for the Massachusetts Volunteer regiments at Ponce, Puerto Rico. He would later testify before the United States Congress on the overall – and rather deplorable – condition of medical facilities available to United States troops in general during the war in the Caribbean.


With the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War Clarkson traveled to South Africa where he secured the appointment as medical officer in the Stormberg-Queenstown district while attached in a civil capacity to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He would be entitled to the Queen’s South African Medal with the clasps “Cape Colony”, “South Africa – 1901” and “South Africa – 1902”. He remained in South African after the war and was appointed a Lieutenant in the Natal Medical Corps in 1904. He was in charge of the Plague Detention Camp in Charlestown and Acting Assistant Port health Officer in Durban. He was later appointed Captain in the Natal Medical Corps in November 1904. That same month he returned to England to pursue postgraduate study at Cambridge.


Returning the Natal in 1906 he assumed the post of District Surgeon of Alexandra County, Natal. As Captain in the Natal Medical Corps, he took part in the suppression of the Zulu rebellion of 1906 and being presented with the Natal Rebellion Medal with the “1906” clasp.


Clarkson retired from the Natal Medical Corps sometime after the 1906 campaign and traveled to Australia where he joined the Australian Army Medical Corps in Queensland. In 1911 he was appointed Medical Inspector for North Queensland. Clarkson resigned his commission in 1913 but soon afterward he accepted a new appointment from the Queensland Government in the Public Health Department in Townsville and then later as Deputy Commissioner of Public Health at Brisbane, a position he held for twelve months. In March of 1919, he was appointed medical superintendent of the Benevolent Institution at Dunwich, Queensland a position he held until his death in 1927. James Booth Clarkson is buried at the Dunwich Cemetery in Queensland, Australia.


James Booth Clarkson married Miss Mary Jane William at Prescot, Lancashire in 1875. James and Mary Jane Clarkson had at least one child, a daughter named Marian Booth Brackenwaite Clarkson. Clarkson appears to have married secondly in 1901 to Edith Pratt Martin of Buffalo, New York and they seem to have at least one daughter - Cynthia Wallace Booth Clarkson.

James Booth Clarkson Merchant Navy.png

Above: This trimmed cabinet-style photograph depicts a young James Booth Clarkson wearing what appears to be the uniform of an officer in the Royal Merchant Navy and was probably taken in the very early 1880s. The reverse side of the image bears the pencil inscription: "Clarkson"

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